Who could forget "The Impressionists" which morphed from a major three-part factual drama series unravels the intimate history of The Impressionists (press Release #1) into
Rivalries, romance, and a struggle for recognition a unique insight into the world of the Impressionist painters in a fascinating new factual drama for BBC ONE.with a heavy emphasis on the "dramatic" and very little about the art.
The Impressionists - on the BBC and at the National Gallery
John Millais (Samuel Barnett), fictional character Fred Walters (Sam Crane)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Aidan Turner) and William Holman Hunt (Rafe Spall)
The latest set of artists which have been served up for a cultural downshift - accompanied by a Britpop/rock soundtrack - by the BBC are the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood.
This was the first description
Set in and among the alleys, galleries and flesh-houses of 19th-century industrial London, Desperate Romantics follows the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a vagabond group of English painters, poets and critics.I guess the BBS has cottoned on to the idea that sex sells. Which is curious because for very many years the BBC made rather a lot of money by making very high quality drama series with excellent production values. Obviously in the new era of mega salaries for the BBC bosses and champagne expense accounts the production values went out the window along with the value in terms of how they spent the licence payers money.
A relationship drama from the perspective of this iconoclastic group of dysfunctional male romantics, the series follows their lives and relationships as they shamelessly scheme and strive to find fame, fortune and success, as well as love and quite a bit of sex along the way.
This colourful and rude gang drama from BBC Drama Production....
Basically, it's Entourage with easels. Desperate Romantics paints a modern, vivid and irreverent portrait of this group of painters whose attitude to the establishment makes them comparable to the punks a hundred years later.
BBC Drama Production presents Desperate Romantics for BBC Two (my hyperlink)
To be honest it is series like these which make me think that the BBC should be totally cut adrift from the income from the licence fee. Why not have a system where all the television companies can compete for funds for programmmes which genuinely educate and inform? Then we might get to see some real quality!
The BBC Press Release failed to identify the commissioning editor responsible for this cultural downshift in drama series. However the identification of the series producer as being Ben Evans (Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!, Curse Of Comedy) explains a lot.
I'm with the reviewer from the Independent - this is Trainspotting applied to the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Plus the writing is absolutely chock-full of the most appalling tabloid straplines by way of introducing characters and context.
Apparently there is a factual book called Deserate Romantics by Franny Boyle which inspired this drama series (all six episodes). Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle is a review of it by Frances Wilson. It was interesting to learn that Moyle had had a career in arts programming at the BBC - it all seems very incestuous to me! It was very odd to read the conclusion of the review - which is a stark contrast to the way it's being played out on television - and then to find out that Franny Boyle is the Co-Executive Producer. How one has to suffer for one's art?
Despite its lush subject, Desperate Romantics is not a biography in the fleshly school. There is nothing indulgently sensuous, or melodramatic, or morally vacant in Moyle's handling of these stories. Instead she tells her tale plain and at a belting pace, pursuing events through troughs of letters and journals, peppering the commentary with the occasional Freudian reading. She writes with the bracing good humour of a head girl - friends are “chums”, people feel “chuffed”, journeys are “jollies”, arguments are “ding-dongs” - and the jauntiness of her approach is a refreshing antidote to the incestuous, dreamlike claustrophobia of these interlocking lives. Her book is powerful, absorbing and, well, rather jolly.However all was explained when I found the Daily Telegraph article by Desperate Romantics dramatist Peter Bowker - see the Daily Telegraph - 'I always was a desperate romantic' - and the conflation of the PRB story with punk rock / prog rock / adolescent male yearnings begins to be explained.
Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle
I have a horror of dramatised art biography but Franny's book offered something different. Her book looked at the Brotherhood's art through the filter of their remarkably tangled and compromised love lives.
Some artists want lasting fame. Some want money. Others want sex. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood want all of it. .....Unfortunately, the art world isn't much interested in a bunch of young, punk iconoclasts raging against the 'establishment' of the Royal Academy - particularly when one of that set, the shamelessly arrogant Rossetti, has yet to learn to paint
(left to right)
Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50) John Everett Millais.
Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850) (The Annunciation) 1849-50 Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The Hireling Shepherd (1851) by William Holman Hunt
- Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50) (aka `The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 Oil on canvas, support: 864 x 1397 mm by John Everett Millais. According to Tate Britain, Millais was viciously attacked by the press for showing the holy family as ‘ordinary’. Charles Dickens described Christ as ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-haired boy in a night-gown.’ Click here to watch a video about this painting coutesy of SMArt History. This is the link to the BBC website version of this painting with an expert commentary and explains why this is a notorious image.
- Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850) (The Annunciation) 1849-50 Oil on canvas, support: 724 x 419 mm frame: 1002 x 698 x 88 mm by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This is its Tate Britain webpage
- The Hireling Shepherd (1851) by William Holman Hunt (30 1/16 in × 43 ⅛ in, oil on canvas) Manchester City Art Gallery. This is link to the painting's web page in the Gallery.
I suspect the best bit about this new drama series will be reading the reviews - which I've rounded up for you. I can't wait to see what AA Gill has to say about this series having read what he had to say about the last one!
- The Guardian - Sam Wollaston on Desperate Romantics - definitely worth a read. The Guardian also published an interview with Peter Bowker last week - Sex and rebellion: Desperate Romantics writer Peter Bowker on his new BBC drama
Desperate Romantics does try hard to distance itself from other costume drama. This, it shouts, is un-costume drama: derobed drama. Look, no clothes. It's certainly more fun than, say, Larksnore to Chocolate Box. But, in spite of some good performances, it's neither as witty nor as funny as Entourage. It's nothing like it, really: more of a jolly romp – with all that nudity, the suggestive sharpening of pencils, the incessant comedy bonk-along-to-brass oompah music.
- The Independent - Tom Sutcliffe reviews Desperate Romantics, BBC2 - Painting by numbers
Ruskin, incidentally, is played by the excellent Tom Hollander, here struggling with a role that is three parts dictionary of quotations to one part tortured sexual repression.Meanwhile I'm toying with titles for reviews of further episodes. Carry On Up the Canvas springs to mind..............
- Desperate Romatics - the website (beware plot spoiler!!!)
- BBC Press Office - Desperate Romantics
- BBC ipplayer - Desparate Romantics Episode 1
- Victoria and Albery Museum - Bibliography Guide to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
- The Impressionists - on the BBC and at the National Gallery (30 April 2006)
- The Impressionists - a review (1st May 2006)
- Taking the Monet? (8 May 2006)